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Annual art exhibit gives Santa Rosa youth, amateur artists chance to display creativity

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If You Go

What: 17th annual National Arts Program exhibition

Where: Finley Community Center, 2060 W. College Ave., Santa Rosa; free admission

When: Through March 27 from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Santa Rosa artist Gail Mardfin illustrated a seemingly ordinary image of eight ripe radishes in a matter of hours, and aside from her jovial experience painting it, she didn’t think it was anything special.

The technique did generate a boutique feeling, the retired art teacher said of her recent piece, thanks to the Masa paper she balled up, ran under water and wrung dry so each stroke of watercolor paint spread to each new crease.

Mardfin’s composition caught the eye of two professional peers, Ian Hazard-Bill of the Mendocino Arts Center and Kristen Throop of Santa Rosa, who recently painted signs for each unit at the Los Guilicos temporary homeless shelter. They judged this year’s National Arts Program Foundation contest and picked her “Eight Radishes” as the best of show.

The two-month exhibit running through March 27 at the Finley Community Center spotlights Santa Rosa artists of all ages and skill levels, putting on display the creative energy emanating throughout the community.

“This is just one of our shows, but it’s a pretty special one,” Jessica Rasmussen, an arts specialist for the city who oversees rotating exhibits at different public sites, said Thursday.

Housed in the sunlit hallways of the west Santa Rosa community center are 200 different pieces of art, an array of paintings, photographs, mixed media and sculptures that for 17 years have been a gateway to the artistic spirit of Santa Rosa.

Over the years, the city has displayed 3,400 local works of art through the competition.

Santa Rosa is home to one of the 90 National Arts Program sites in 30 states, and is the only city in the Bay Area to participate.

The foundation provides almost $3,500 to dole out to artists who created the top works picked each year by new judges. Submissions are separated into five categories: youth, teen, amateur, intermediate and professional. Rileystreet Art Supply and Village Art provide gift certificates for the honorable mentions.

There are no real guidelines or a singular theme, and while it is a contest, Rasmussen said for many Santa Rosa residents it’s also a chance to share their creative work in a professional setting.

“I know there’s been people over the years, who are artists in our community now, this was the first thing they entered,” Rasmussen said. “It’s just a very affirming and encouraging thing to participate in. It is a professional space, people get a lot of feedback.”

Santa Rosa residents this year submitted artwork featuring eye-catching landscapes, vibrant illustrations of plant life, moving human portraits and abstract creations that evoked wonder.

The artists will gather for an awards reception on March 8 when city Mayor Tom Schwedhelm and Rasmussen will give out the awards and celebrate the imaginative force behind this year’s contest.

Mardfin, who will receive $400 for her cheerful depiction of the red root vegetable, said she didn’t view her piece as worthy of best of show. But if she had to guess, she said it may have been the happiness she conveyed on the crinkled Japanese paper.

“When I was painting it, I was thinking, ‘This is so much fun. I’d love to teach this technique,’” Mardfin said. “I think the joy that I brought into it was what attracted the judges to it.”

You can reach Staff Writer Yousef Baig at 707-521-5390 or yousef.baig@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @YousefBaig.

If You Go

What: 17th annual National Arts Program exhibition

Where: Finley Community Center, 2060 W. College Ave., Santa Rosa; free admission

When: Through March 27 from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

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